Finding ancient woods in the trees

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11 JUNE 2010NEWS RELEASE No: 13686

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Ancient woodlands form part of the landscape character of Wales. These centuries-old woodlands support many species of plants and wildlife that depend on the evolving but continuous environments created by dead and dying wood and broken sunlight.

Over the next year, the Ancient Woodland Inventory, a map-based record of these areas, that have been wooded since at least 1600, will be updated.

Since the inventory was produced around 30 years ago, technology for capturing such data has improved dramatically and better sources of information have come to light.

The update will identify former ancient woodlands that have subsequently been planted with conifer trees to satisfy the demand for timber over many decades – such woodlands are known as Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS).

This information will guide decisions on restoring some of the PAWS to their natural state by removing non-native trees and planting native broadleaf species such as oak, birch, rowan and ash. Such work helps to increase the variety of different plant and wildlife species in the woodland by improving habitats and providing food and shelter.

Wood pastures – ancient and veteran trees found on grazed sites – will also be systematically recorded as part of the update to the inventory. Despite the ecological value of wood pasture, it has no legal protection, so identification on the inventory may help protect these sites from damage or destruction.

The major update to this valuable tool has been commissioned by Forestry Commission Wales, together with the Countryside Council for Wales and The Woodland Trust.

Michelle van Velzen, Forestry & Environment Policy & Programme Manager at Forestry Commission Wales, said, "Ancient woodlands are a precious and finite resource that cannot be recreated.

"This update to the Ancient Woodland Inventory will ensure we have the most comprehensive and accurate information on the extent and nature of ancient woodlands in Wales.

"The new inventory will be used by various organisations to help protect and restore our ancient woodlands."

The update to the inventory will be completed in March 2011 and the new information will be supplied to local authorities for their use when developing planning policy that affects woodland.

The Geo Information Group, a leading provider of geospatial information products, has been commissioned to produce the updated Ancient Woodland Inventory. They will use digitised Ordnance Survey maps from the 1800s along with aerial photography from the 2006 National Forest Inventory.


Ancient woodland

The concept of ‘ancient woodland’ was developed in the 1970s and 1980s when studies showed that woodlands that have had a continuous woodland cover for centuries were typically of higher nature conservation value than those that had developed recently.

Ancient Woodland Inventory

The former Nature Conservancy Council instigated the Ancient Woodland Inventory (AWI), which attempted to list all ancient woodlands in Britain. The AWI would be used to identify woods of high nature conservation value to help prioritise action for protection.

A baseline date of 1600 AD was adopted because reasonable maps were available from this time (in England, at least). 1600 AD however, is an arbitrary date, and there is no clear ecological cut-off.

In Wales the main source of information was the Second Edition 1’’ to the mile OS maps from the early 1800s. In mountainous areas, the maps were hard to interpret because the heavy hatching used to indicate steep slopes tended to obscure tree symbols.

Landmark have recently produced an ortho-rectified raster digital version of the Ordnance Survey’s 1st County Series 1:2,500 scale maps, the first series of which, known as Epoch 1, was published from 1843 to 1893. These maps provide a much clearer, more accurate basis from which to describe ancient woodlands, and will be used to revise the AWI.

Forestry Commission Wales

About 14% of Wales is covered by woodlands. Of this, 38% (126,000 hectares/311,000 acres) is owned by the Welsh Assembly Government.

Forestry Commission Wales is the Welsh Assembly Government’s department of forestry and manages these woodlands on its behalf.

Forestry Commission Wales provides advice on forestry policy to the Minister responsible for forestry. It provides grant aid to the private sector and regulates forestry by issuing felling licences.

Forestry Commission Wales is also part of Forestry Commission GB and contributes to the international forestry agenda.

More information on the woodlands of Wales is available on

Press office contact: Mary Galliers,, 0300 068 0057